At 7:30 next
morning there was no bus. At 7:40, still no bus. Frantically, I rummaged
through my list of things to do and telephone numbers to remember. Where did
that Commander live? And what good would it do to find him now, an hour before
plane time? I had a vision of 35 frightened Americans, carrying 48 pieces of
luggage and uncountable purses and flight bags, stranded on the strand of
France. Then the bus came, big and blue and welcome. The driver fished out an
instruction sheet that read 7:45 and not 7:30. Oh, that Commander! The bus
started and the Doctor's daughter began to sing Margie and others joined her. I
gave the driver a 5,000-franc note for no reason at all except that it was
suddenly a very bright morning.
Rome was hot and
sticky. The ladies were drinking prescription formula for swollen ankles and
the men looked longingly at each birra (beer) sign. But no matter, this was the
Olympic City and this was why we had come.
At our hotel,
naturally, trouble was waiting. I was informed that 10 of the group must be
housed at another hotel. Though we later discovered this extra hotel was a
lovely old place with a huge courtyard, clean dormitory-style halls and
complete plumbing in each room, it was far from the center of the city and
those who lived there came to regard themselves as second-class citizens. It
helped a bit when we identified them as the Country Club Set and applauded each
time the bus picked them up on the way to the Olympics.
Meantime, back at
the major hotel, next to Rome's railroad station, the "favored" group
learned that most of them would not have plumbing and a few would be required
to sleep three to a room. This time the manager himself spoke to me, and he was
all apologies. "I have made a mistake," he said. "Another tour
group came in two days ago and I gave them all the rooms promised to you. They
all have bagni (baths). Now it is too late, I cannot remove them from their
rooms." We argued and I lost, except for a vague promise that everything
would be better in two or three days.
I tried to be
casual with the group.
"Those of you
who have been to Europe will understand," I said. "You see, over here
the bath has always been a ritual. In a sense it is a symbol of luxury. You
ring for the maid and she draws your water, hands you your towel and even
scrubs your back. You luxuriate. Europeans believe the bath should not be part
of the bedroom." I asked the Judge and Mr. Dignity if they would mind
rooming together. "Anything you say," they answered. The heat had
broken their spirit.
The room problem
was finally solved, but there were other problems to take its place. I found an
outlet for them, though. Nightly I talked them all over with other tour
conductors who had been beguiled back home like me. We didn't exactly seek each
other out, we just seemed to converge each evening on Doney's sidewalk tables
on the Via Veneto.
One problem was
the matter of tickets. I had been assured our season seats were right on the
finish line, and, indeed, they were on the sunny side of the field. Sunny? It
was broiling. I had my own accredited seat in the press area on the shady
"I saw you
through my field glasses," said the Quiet Doctor. "My tongue was
hanging out, it was so hot."
so?" I said. "My seat is down near the starting mark so I can't tell
for sure who wins a race. Would you believe it, I thought Dave Sime caught and
passed Hary in the 100 meters?"